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Minister set to axe little rural school

Tuturumuri School. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Hanging on to slim hopes

ELISA VORSTER and HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Parents of the six pupils at Tuturumuri School were “disappointed” with the news that the government will most likely shut down the school for good, but remained hopeful of a change of heart.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins on Tuesday announced his interim decision to close the school, three months after the initial consultation began.

The final announcement is expected to be made in August, with the school board given just 28 days to make a last-ditch attempt to keep the school open.

The tiny, but well-resourced school, has seen its roll fluctuate over recent times, with last year’s roll of nine pupils declining to zero after the school bus route was cut.

The school managed to enrol six pupils this year, but after the principal and board chairman left last year, it was never going to be easy.

The school’s limited statutory manager Denis Asher said he received the “disappointing news” of Hipkins’ decision at 10am on Tuesday.

“As promised, he has given the community 28 days to respond,” he said.

Flashback . . . Gary Moran, right, aged 10, on his way home from Tuturumuri School in the school van. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

“I am now arranging meetings with parents and the community.”

School board chairwoman Kerstin Gruender, who has two children attending the school, said the news was very fresh.

“We need to let everyone know and then we’ll have a direction.”

“Obviously, if it closes, it will have wide implications for everyone involved.”

She said the only options would be a one-hour bus ride to the closest school – Martinborough School – or home schooling – something Gruender would consider.

With five staff members, the school was unique with its high teacher-to-pupil ratio.

“You can’t get that anywhere else,” she said.

“That’s one of the reasons we want to fight for the school.”

Hipkins acknowledged the important role the school had played in the community but said the decline in roll numbers over the years led to his decision, despite two new enrolments this year from a family returning to the area.

“Twenty-eight submissions were received during the consultation period, and I have considered all the feedback provided to me to date,” he said.

“While the school’s roll has increased since consultation was first announced, my concerns about low student numbers at the school remain.”

South Wairarapa District Mayor Viv Napier said the news was “really sad” for the community.

“I definitely sent a letter to the minister, and council supported that.”

New Zealand Principals’ Federation president Whetu Cormick said the decision to close a school was not one the minister would have made lightly.

“It’s not a pleasant experience and the community would be struggling to deal with it, but I’m sure the ministry will have support systems in place.”

Asher said many submissions had already made to the ministry, with most centred on the school’s remoteness.

He confirmed the school would remain open until the final decision was made in August.

Former pupil has fond memories of Tuturumuri school

Former Tuturumuri School pupil Gary Moran [pictured] said the days of taking his rifle to school would be “vastly different” to life at the school today.

“I shot a swan with a .22 rifle on the way to catch the school bus,” he said.

“I ran down to where the bus was waiting and chucked the swan and the rifle on board.

“The teacher congratulated me.”

Moran was a pupil at the school from 1956 to 1964, and still lives in Martinborough.

He has fond memories of his time at Tuturumuri.

“I had a good time there, really.

“Back when I started, there was a big asphalt tennis court, which was pretty good for back then.”

Some of his schooling was held at the shearer’s quarters and then at the local hall building, while an additional school building was built to accommodate the sudden roll increase from nine pupils to 15.

He said as well as Tuturumuri School, there was a school at Tora at the time, but more and more rural schools began to close with the increase of families with private vehicles.

“I guess it’s the sign of the times.

“You can’t keep it open if there’s no kids though can you?

“I feel sorry for anyone who’s got kids out there now – what the hell do they do?”

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